Status Symbols and Death Threats

10. janvāris, 2008

This week, for the first time in the history of this website, the author of one of the articles received a death threat from an anonymous comentator. The unsuspecting author brought this upon himself by calling some of President Musharraf's opponents 'radical islamists': http://www.politika.lv/index.php?id=14955 . The commentator declared he would kill the author if he met him in the street. As simple as that. With several years' delay (compared to the US or the UK), the spirit of threat grounded in radical beliefs has reached the virtual space of Latvia.

Well, it more or less had to be expected. As the heady economic growth of the last years begins to fade, many people here, as well as in some other East and Central European countries, feel the strain of disillusionment and increasing alienation from consumer society where they are not in a position to consume. So far very few choose radical Islam as a response. The anonymous commentator who posted the death threat must feel lonely in Purvciems, or Jugla, or whichever residential suburb of Riga happens to be his home. Others leave for happier places (with vastly different salaries), or drink, or succumb to a variety of locally brewed radicalism closer to their heart. The turnover of marginal newspapers promoting racist ideas may grow this year, as the economists’ forecasts for 2008 in Latvia are far from encouraging.

But what do the rest of us do meanwhile? A psychologist friend from another country living in Riga has recently told me he is shocked by the extent to which local people are obsessed with status symbols and indifferent to politics. Cars and houses mean much more than rights and responsibilities, and desire to change the world is extremely low. How about the signs of change this autumn? I asked him. The mass protests in the Old Town? Ah yes, he smiled. Five thousand people, or maybe ten. One third of them foreigners. I was there too.

I wish I could disagree with him.

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